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Contents

Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries

ANATOMY OF A JOKE

Chapter:
CHAPTER 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off
Source:
MUSIC IN THE SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

No single item from such a list could possibly be wholly representative, but for a look at the “new and special manner” and its implications, the Quartet in E-flat major, op. 33, no. 2 is a reasonable choice. It sports a rather coarse nickname, “The Joke,” in English; but since the joke in question is the quartet’s ending gesture, a particularly well-aimed stroke of wit based entirely on the sending of a false “introversive” signal, the nickname arises directly out of the compositional strategies that are of interest to us now. Observing them minutely for a while will amply repay the effort it will cost by heightening sensitivity to the kind of significant detail that Kenner und Liebhaber prize. The discussion that follows must be read with the score close at hand. The first movement’s exposition, which will be given an especially close analysis, is shown in Ex. 10-6a.

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ex. 10-6a Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet in E-flat, Op. 33, no. 2 (“The Joke”), I, mm. 1–32

Leaving the big titular joke for the end does not mean we will be deprived of humor till then. The first movement is inexhaustibly rife with little jokes of the same kind—or rather, little jolts of wit, which the dictionary defines as “the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between ideas which awaken pleasure and especially amusement.” Unexpected introversive connections are the key—and such connections, in Haydn’s music, consist preeminently of motivic relationships. The exploration of motivic relationships, and their shrewd recombination, has always been a feature of thematische Arbeit. Only now we will find such things happening not just in the designated development but from the word go, and pervading the whole texture besides.

The opening theme’s initial four-bar phrase, in which the first violin is straightforwardly accompanied by the rest of the band, already harbors a clever motivic transformation. The fourth eighth note of the second measure, the melodic high point, is unexpectedly, arbitrarily broken (or so it seems) into a pair of sixteenths, with the second of the pair descending a fourth to anticipate the note on the next strong beat. Compare the very beginning of the melody (the first violin’s anticipatory pickup to the first strong beat), and observe a neat motivic inversion (or—take your pick—a “crab” or mirror reversal).

Such a thing, done just for its own sake, would be as dull, ultimately, as a gratuitous pun: too much of that, and a conversationalist seems no longer witty but annoying. Haydn does not do it just for its own sake, though. First he redeems it by incorporating its rhythm into the fourth measure (the opening four-bar phrase now falling in retrospect into two rhythmically identical, balanced pairs). But then he derives the entire four-bar continuation (mm. 5–8) from varied recombinations of the three-note motive (two sixteenths anticipating an eighth) thus isolated. Its opening skip is progressively widened in the first violin from a fourth to a full octave. This is done in two stages, separated by pauses during which the second violin and viola add their two cents’ worth of motivic echo, substituting chromatic leading tones for the initial skip of a fourth. Then the first violin, having reached the octave by way of a sixth and a seventh, turns that progression around, still maintaining the rhythm of the opening motive and compressing it into a measure of continuous sixteenth notes to match a melodic climax with a rhythmic one.

The second phrase is followed by a repetition of the first (the only change being the addition of a grace note to the half note in m. 11, so that there will be a greater resemblance to the by now strongly “motivated” two-note pickup). The opening period having thus been closed off in a minuscule da capo, the transition to the dominant is due. Now for the first time we get a contrapuntal montage of motivically related phrases. The first violin begins at m. 13 with the same pickup as before, extended to a sixth. Meanwhile, the remaining three instruments, up to now discreet accompanists, have struck up a conversation among themselves, initiated by the cello’s immediate repetition of the first violin’s motivically saturated ending phrase in m. 12. The six-note fragment is tossed from cello to viola to second violin (supported by the cello again) until the first violin receives it like a pass in m. 14 and tosses it back and forth with the second violin. The first violin’s four-bar transitional passage from m. 15 to m. 18 is wholly derived from the same fragment, first repeated four-fold in the form received from the other instruments, and then in a rhythmic compression based entirely on the off-beat component, first heard as such in m. 2.

Measures 19–22 are saturated in all four parts with further reminiscences of the opening three-note pickup idea, sometimes in its leading-tone variant, sometimes in its reversed (“off-beat”) variant, and once, climactically, in its original form (pickup to m. 21) to zero in emphatically on the new tonic. The material from m. 23 to m. 28, which elaborates a cadence to establish the goal of the tonal trajectory from tonic to dominant (B-flat major), is not obviously related to the fund of motives we have been tracing. Neither is it particularly distinctive as thematic material. Its function is to provide some neutral space to support a harmonic close.

Harmonic closure having been achieved (on the third beat of m. 28), the old fund of motives is reasserted to provide a suitable melodic close. First the second violin enters with the original three-note group—on its original pitches, too (allowing for an octave transposition), only now functioning not as tonic but as subdominant. This is a typically ironic “introversive” reference: recalling the opening melodic phrase just to point up the changed harmonic context. Having been recalled, the three-note motive generates a four-beat phrase, answered by the first violin in m. 30 with a phrase reminiscent of its passage in mm. 17–18, itself derived originally from the phrase-closing motive in m. 4, which referred yet further back to the melodic peak in m. 2.

The exchange is repeated and “doubled”: viola and cello in m. 31 (the cello recalling the first violin’s octaves in mm. 6–7) and the two violins in m. 32. The last three notes of the first violin part before the double bar are nothing but a transposition to the dominant of its first three notes, the original “three-note anticipatory motive,” rounding off the whole exposition with an elegant show of symmetry—and some more “introversive irony,” the opening gesture now transformed into a closing gesture to give a foretaste of (or a precedent to) the ending “joke” after which the quartet as a whole was nicknamed.

That show of symmetry has a more immediate payoff when the exposition is repeated. After its second playing, the tonal trajectory goes into reverse, and the movement reaches that phase (the so-called development) most firmly associated with motivic derivations and recombinations, on the way to the FOP. It is precisely here that, in an ironic gesture of our own, we will stop tracing Haydn’s thematische Arbeit. It is not just that blow-by-blow verbal descriptions of musical processes are ultimately supererogatory (not to mention tedious). It is also apparent, or should be, that the “development section” has no special lock on motivic development. Motivic elaboration—a newly enriched elaborative process in which the whole texture participates—is a constant characteristic of Haydn’s “new and special manner.” What is distinctive about the section between the double bar and the double return is its harmonic instability, not its thematic or motivic content.

The second movement of the quartet is the minuet, placed ahead of the slow movement rather than afterwards. This is not all that unusual. The all-purpose divertimentos out of which the mature quartet genre “precipitated” often had two minuets, one before the slow movement, the other after; for Haydn it was just a choice, so to speak, of which minuet to drop. More unusual as of 1781 was the use of the word “scherzo” (or scherzando) to designate this one movement rather than the divertimento as a whole, for which the word was an occasional synonym.

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ex. 10-6b Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet in E-flat, Op. 33, no. 2 (“The Joke”), II, mm. 1–10, 21–26

As we may recall from Monteverdi’s prior employment of the word (see chapter 1), its literal meaning is “joke” or “jest,” which might possibly seem to be the source of the quartet’s familiar nickname. But no, all the minuets in op. 33 sport the designation (and four out of six are placed like this one, as the second movement). The meaning might seem more a performance direction than a category: do the minuet a little faster than usual (hence the explicit instruction “allegro”), and do it playfully. Playfulness is built in, though: the eight-bar opening phrase is extended to an asymmetrical ten because of the stalling (or echo) tactics of the two violins in mm. 5–6. And then the silly wobble on the “dominant ninth” (C-flat) gets “developed” sequentially in mm. 21–24, dignifying it ironically by introversive recall (see Ex. 10-6b). A mock-silly piece, then?

Perhaps so, but with an important qualification. If we look at the scherzo with minuettish expectations, we immediately notice something “wrong.” The tonal trajectory is askew. The first strain never leaves the tonic. The modulation to the dominant takes place at the beginning of the second strain, and serves in lieu of a FOP. (To the extent that there is a FOP, it is just the little chromatic extension provided by the development of the “wobble,” as noted.) And the traditional final gesture, the double return, here amounts to a full, literal restatement of the first strain, pointless wobble and all. This impoverished sequence of events—failure to modulate before the double bar; the use of the dominant as FOP; full literal restatement of the first strain at the double return—is scrupulously reproduced in the Trio, marking it not as a casual departure from normal procedure, but as a sort of alternative normal procedure in its own right. The texture, too, now seems impoverished: it is just the sort of rigidly layered texture—first violin melody over second violin figuration over downbeat punctuations in the bass, the viola rendered altogether superfluous and dispensable—that one might have found in a “divertimento” before Haydn ever started fashioning his new and special manner of quartet writing (Ex. 10-6c).

Anatomy Of A Joke

ex. 10-6c Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet in E-flat, Op. 33, no. 2 (“The Joke”), II, mm. 35–42 (first strain of the Trio)

What we are dealing with then, is not so much a mock-silly piece as a mock-primitive one—a highly sophisticated composer imitating (thus mocking) the efforts of uncouth village musicians. (For the ultimate in this sort of slumming spoof see Mozart’s hilarious if far from subtle Divertimento in F, K. 522, subtitled Ein musikalischer Spass, “A Musical Joke” [= scherzo].) In Haydn’s late symphonies, too, one often finds the evocation of folk or peasant styles in the minuets (there more as a matter of harmonic or “modal” color, often involving the raised or “Lydian” fourth degree over a bagpipelike drone bass). There is also a whole group of late symphonic minuets in which the first strain is recapitulated in the second; but in these the first strain had made its customary modulation, and so its “recapitulation” is adjusted to reaffirm the tonic, just as in the “sonata form.” The late symphonic minuet is thus a sonata hybrid, and extra sophisticated.

That cannot be said of the scherzi in op. 33. They are “extroversively ironic,” evoking a folkish or “country” style just to point up the distance from there to courtly perfection. Thus while Haydn is often applauded for his peasant origins (even by himself in retrospect when talking to fawning biographers), it is evident that his artistic loyalties and sympathies were entirely aristocratic, and that his frequent evocations of peasant music were no manifestation of class solidarity, as they might have been in a nineteenth-century composer, but a bit of humorous rustic exoticism.

A folkish style, in any case, had only a “class” or “regional” connotation for a composer in eighteenth-century Austria, never a “national” one. Folkishness was marked as bumpkinry and regarded with condescension vis-à-vis the unmarked (cosmopolitan, aristocratic) default style of “quality.” That was only inevitable in Haydn’s time and place, especially in the multinational Hapsburg (“Holy Roman”) Empire, whose identity was associated not with any ethnicity, nor even with any place, but with an ancient dynasty. Haydn’s politics, like that of his patrons, was a dynastic politics, and nowhere is this more apparent than when he trades in “rustic” or “ethnic” stereotypes.

The quartet’s slow movement, as usual, is cast in the most “original,” least classifiable form; but (again as usual) that form is based on very familiar and intelligible procedures. The opening eight-bar duet (Ex. 10-6d), in which the viola, very strikingly, gets to enunciate the movement’s lyrical main theme (thus reasserting its courtly “emancipated” role after its rustic subordination), is repeated three more times in different instrumental pairings, with textural elaborations in the form of countermelodies, and with intervening episodes to provide tonal contrasts. That’s all there is to it; the charm of this movement lies in the detail work.

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ex. 10-6d Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet in E-flat, Op. 33, no. 2 (“The Joke”), III, mm. 1–8

The four varied repetitions of the melody exhaust the “rational” pairs into which the four instruments in a string quartet can be grouped. After the unaccompanied duet for the two lower instruments, the first repetition, which takes place immediately, is scored for the “upper pair,” that is, the two violins, minimally accompanied by a murmur in the cello that bridges the caesura between the phrases in a manner that might recall (and thus restore to courtly grace) the rustic “wobble” from the preceding movement. After an episode in echo style that pulls the music out of its tonic and returns it (like a good “development section”) to its dominant, the theme returns in the “inner” pair (second violin and viola), while the first violin keeps up the cello’s “murmur” as a steady accompaniment of sixteenth notes.

Another echo episode, melodically similar to the first but harmonically different, leads the music on another wayward path to the dominant to prepare the final statement of the main theme, by the “outer pair” (first violin and cello, with the second violin occasionally taking the notes of the lower voice so as to free the cello to provide a better bass). Now the viola provides the running murmur and the second violin, when not spelling the cello, contributes a harmonic filler. The coda unites reminiscences of the theme with reminiscences of the episodes.

And now at last to the movement that gave the “Joke” Quartet its nickname. The theme of the finale is shaped exactly like those of the Scherzo and Trio: a repeated eight-bar strain that cadences in the tonic key (Ex. 10-6e), followed by a second strain that moves out to the dominant and ends there with a literal repeat of the first strain. Minus the repeats, this theme comes back literally halfway through the movement, marking the movement as a rondo and the material between the two statements of the theme as a motivically “developmental” episode. These are the internal relationships on which the movement’s “introversive” signaling will depend.

Anatomy Of A Joke

ex. 10-6e Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet in E-flat, Op. 33, no. 2 (“The Joke”), IV, mm. 1–8

Several features of the theme are tailor-made for such treatment. For one thing, its first note, repeated over the bar for emphasis, is the third degree of the scale, expressed as the middle member of the tonic triad. That is no accident. It enables Haydn to precede each repetition (both of the whole theme and of its final “recapitulatory” strain) with a jolly maximum of pseudo-suspense, produced each time by a dominant-seventh chord with the dissonant tone exposed on top and followed by a rest to boost the sense of urgency toward predictable resolution on the first note of the theme. These chords all but palpably point at their successors: that is introversive semiotics at its rawest and bluntest—so much so that Haydn is moved to spoof the effect in mm. 137–40 with superfluous repetitions and fermatas (Ex. 10-6f).

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ex. 10-6f Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet in E-flat, Op. 33, no. 2 (“The Joke”), IV, mm. 133–140

Also deliberately blunt and stolid is the way the opening strain of the theme (Ex. 10-6e) ends in m. 8: right on the beat without the characteristic fall-off rhythm found at all analogous points in the tune (compare mm. 2 and 4). This too gets joshed with a fermata on its last repetition. But although brought about by the same stop-time effect, this spoof is the virtual opposite of the one that came before. What made the fermatas in Ex. 10-6f funny was absolute certainty as to what would have to follow. In m. 148, the premature closure of the phrase creates real doubt as to what will follow. Haydn has engineered a deliberate breakdown of the introversive signaling system.

He capitalizes on the breakdown by producing something utterly unexpected: a repetition of mm. 145–48 (the final phrase of the theme) in a ludicrous mock-tragic tone, produced by a switch to adagio tempo, heavy chords (one of them an extra-dissonant “dominant ninth”) marked forte, and a panting “speech rhythm” in the first violin (Ex. 10-6g). One last, hesitant, repetition of the rondo theme, all the phrases spaced out with “general pauses,” brings the movement to an embarrassed end (Ex. 10-6h). Or tries to. The stubbornly incomplete final phrase again proves inadequate. And so, after four measures of mock indecision, the first phrase gets pressed into duty as an emergency last phrase. It has the correct harmonic content and it has the correct rhythmic weight (with a proper at the end). Its fatal drawback, of course, is that it has been marked by many repetitions, each one setting an “introversive” precedent, as an opener, not a closer.

And so whenever this ending is performed, it takes the audience an extra second or so to recover its wits and realize that the piece is indeed over. The result is an inevitable giggle—the same giggle that overtakes a prestidigitator’s audience when it realizes that it has been “had.” Haydn’s titular joke is thus not an “anecdote” but a “practical joke,” the product of misdirection.

Anatomy Of A Joke

ex. 10-6g Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet in E-flat, Op. 33, no. 2 (“The Joke”), IV mm. 145–152

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ex. 10-6h Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet in E-flat, Op. 33, no. 2 (“The Joke”), IV end

Of course nothing so thoroughly spoils a good joke as an endeavor like the one now underway to explain it verbally. Like any attempt to manipulate an audience’s expectations, this one succeeds unawares or not at all. But what Haydn did here for once broadly and obviously, he does subtly and artfully on every page of his mature instrumental music, as inspecting the first movement of this very quartet has already established for us. Like the “Farewell” Symphony, it illustrates the symbiosis that subsisted between a composer of superb self-consciousness and a correspondingly discerning patron. The prince’s demands gave Haydn many specific projects into which he could channel the spontaneous promptings of his creative urge. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau might have said, the conditions of his existence, a bondage to many, paradoxically forced Haydn to be free.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 21 Sep. 2020. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10010.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 21 Sep. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10010.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 21 Sep. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10010.xml